No. 1, the answers aren't easy Title to be disputed no matter who wins

January 01, 1991|By Don Markus

This is the year Virginia went from one to none in a matter of three weeks. It is the year Colorado won a game with the help of a fifth down. It is the year that five No. 1 teams lost, including Notre Dame twice.

In college football, 1990 was the season to be folly.

So things don't figure to change much today, when three bowls and at least five teams are claiming to have a shot at a national championship. And following the bowls, a new round of debate could begin with the possibility of the first disputed champion since 1978.

Among the questions being asked:

* Will a victory by top-ranked Colorado over No. 5 Notre Dame at the Orange Bowl ensure the Buffaloes of their first national title, and if so, will there be an (*) attached to it because of a questionable win earlier this season over Missouri?

* Will second-ranked Georgia Tech become the first Atlantic Coast Conference school to win a national football title since Clemson in 1981 if it remains unbeaten with a victory over No. 19 Nebraska in the Florida Citrus Bowl and Colorado loses to the Irish and No. 3 Texas loses in the Cotton Bowl to fourth-ranked Miami?

* Do the twice-beaten Hurricanes have any shot at repeating as national champions, if the top three teams lose? And if Miami stakes its claim, then why not twice-beaten Notre Dame, which lost to Stanford and Penn State at home but beat Miami midway through the season?

The answers are not simple, but Cotton Bowl executive director Jim "Hoss" Brock has an easy solution to the question of No. 1. "If Colorado beats Notre Dame, 30-0, it's all over," said Brock, who of course is hoping the opposite happens so that the Longhorns have a chance to win it all.

Nearly every team in the picture has a potential snag. For Colorado, it's the fifth down. For Georgia Tech, it's a questionable schedule and what is still perceived as a less-than-powerhouse conference. For Notre Dame and Miami, it's the fact that no team with two regular-season defeats has ever won the national championship.

In fact, Texas probably can make the strongest case. The Longhorns came into the national consciousness with a victory over Oklahoma, leapfrogged into the top 10 with a stunning demolition of then-No. 3 Houston and lost only once, on a blocked punt to Colorado, early in the season.

What this season clearly showed is the need for the entire bowl structure to be revised, and a potential playoff system down the road. Even Brock, a staunch defender of the status quo, said, "The bowl system is a little shaky now because of the early jumping this year."

Said ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, "What we do now is degrading for everybody, for the bowl people and the schools."

This won't be the last year that New Year's Day will be a morning-to-midnight bowl marathon, and pure nirvana for the college football junkie, but the selection process could be changed in the coming months.

It is expected that the current invitation date of Nov. 24 will be voted out at the National Collegiate Athletic Association convention in Nashville, Tenn., later this month. Though there has been serious discussion of having no date at all, the major bowl power brokers believe that the NCAA would step in before that happens.

The invitation date was so uniformly ignored this season that deals were being struck as early as Nov. 4, and the selection process turned into utter chaos. The have-nots are pushing for the confusion to continue, while some of the major bowls would like the NCAA to get officially involved in the form of a Dec. 1 draft.

One proposal would be for bowls with no conference affiliation to pick teams depending on the game's payout and the team's' power ratings.

"I don't think everybody is really pleased with the draft system," said Southwest Conference commissioner Fred Jacoby, "but it's lot better than anything we have right now."

While a national playoff system is being trumpeted by some members of the media across the country, those who favor the bowl structure are hesitant to change. They say it is too costly, too much of a logistical nightmare and puts added pressure on 19-year-olds trying to become full-time students again.

"The playoff system is just the antithesis of what the reform movement in college athletics is all about," said Citrus Bowl executive director Chuck Rohe. "It's 180 degrees from where we're trying to go."

"I don't think there's any question that it could work," said Sugar Bowl executive director Mickey Holmes. "But how many teams would be included? How many weeks would be involved? Right now it's a mythical national champion, and that adds to the debate."

One thing is certain about this year's national champion: it will certainly be a myth. All the contenders have some type of flaw, either in their record, their schedule or in their personnel. There are a lot of 1As this year, but clearly there is no No. 1.

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